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QCOSTARICA – It’s official, 2015 was the most violent year in Costa Rica’s history with 558 murders between January 1 and December 31, 2015. The number of murders in 2014 was 477.

According to the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OJI), more than one-third (37%) of the murders were attributed to a settling of scores among drug trafficking gangs and other criminal groups operating in the country.

Walter Espinoza, the newly appointed director of the criminal investigation police unit, said “the homicide rate is 11.4 per 100.000 habitants, a sharp contrast to recent years.”

According to Espinoza, “the country faces a worrisome and difficult situation”.

“The homicide rate is 11.4 (per 100,000 inhabitants) and contrasts with what we have experienced in recent years. There has been a significant increase,” OIJ director Walter Espinoza told the media earlier this week. “We face a worrisome and difficult situation.”

Though the national murder rate data may vary, the legal definition of “intentional homicide” differs among countries. A study undertaken by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development reported a global average intentional homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population for 2012.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a site called Global Study on Homicide. All data in this section comes from reports on that site. Intentional homicide, as defined by UNODC, is “unlawful death purposefully inflicted on a person by another person”.

According to the UNODC 2012 (latest year) murder rate, Costa Rica had rate of 8.5 with 407 murders, one of the lowest in Latin America, behind Chile (3.1), Argentina (5.5) and Uruguay (7.9). The countries with the highest rate were Honduras (90.4), Venezuela (53.7) and Belize (44.7).

The World Health Organization (WHO) constitutes an epidemic a murder rate of more than 10 per 100,000.

To combat the rise in murders, with focus on organized crime, the OIJ is expanding and reorganizing its homicide, creating for 2016, a special organized crime unit.

On the horizon is a proposal by the Ministro de Seguridad Publica (MSP) – minister of public security – Gustavo Mata, to set up an inter-agency task force with the objective of tackling drug traffickers. The proposal is under consideration by the Supreme Court.